Welcome to this week’s edition of The Friday Five! The Friday Five is a feature that I post every Friday in which I give my thoughts on a topic that’s related to NBA Live, NBA 2K, and other basketball video games, as well as the real NBA, and other areas of interest to our community. The feature is presented as either a list of five items, or in the form of a Top 5 countdown. This week’s Five is a list of five wholesome moments in basketball gaming.
Let’s face it: it’s easy to get bogged down in negativity. Sure, criticism is an important part of constructive feedback, but it shouldn’t be our only focus here in the basketball gaming community. Most online communities have their toxic elements and sadly we aren’t immune, especially when certain elements of the games cultivate and contribute to a toxic atmosphere at times. It’s therefore important that we take time to recognise the positive aspects of our hobby, and celebrate all of the fun that we have with it. After all, most of us do enjoy playing the games at least some of the time!
Beyond our enjoyment of all the things we do on the virtual hardwood, basketball gaming has been responsible for some wholesome moments throughout the years, and those should be celebrated as well. I know that it’s difficult not to be cynical and write off such gestures as nothing more than PR stunts, but the mere fact that there’s the prospect of positive press doesn’t mean that these wholesome gestures are insincere, or that they aren’t admirable. With that in mind, let’s wrap up the working week with some positivity, and take a look at five wholesome and heart-warming moments from various basketball video games, and give some credit where it’s due.
1. Isaiah Austin Added to NBA 2K15
Days before the 2014 Draft, highly touted prospect Isaiah Austin had to withdraw and retire from competitive basketball due to a diagnosis of Marfan syndrome. While it may not have been as tragic as the sad story of Len Bias, it was nevertheless a shame to see a young player’s dream of making it to the NBA fall apart when it was so close to coming to fruition. In what was one of classiest and most moving gestures in the history of the league, the NBA “selected” Austin between picks in the Draft, so that he could at least walk up on stage and experience that part of the journey. Say, who’s the joker who’s cutting onions in here? Seriously though, that was really cool moment.
2K also got in on the act as they added Isaiah Austin to the Free Agent Pool in NBA 2K15, no doubt allowing him to carve out a career on the virtual hardwood in many MyLEAGUE and MyGM games. MyTEAM gamers also got to play with him, as his card was added to the mode. This made Austin part of a group of players who have appeared in more video games than actual NBA games, a contingent that is larger than you may think. Of course, he has since been cleared to return to basketball and has been playing overseas since 2016, so that may change one day. Even if it doesn’t, it’s great to see him back on the real court, on top of his appearance in NBA 2K15.
2. Make-a-Wish Kids Added to Various NBA 2K Games
Isaiah Austin isn’t the only non-NBA player to show up in the Free Agent Pool. Over the years, Visual Concepts have added a handful of Make-a-Wish kids to the rosters of NBA 2K, after bringing them in to the studio for a visit. This includes Treyvon Williams-King in NBA 2K15, Boruch Nojowitz in NBA 2K16, and Luke Gregory and My’Khail Thomas in NBA 2K17. Predictably, some gamers had unkind remarks about their inclusion, but many others recognised and appreciated the wholesome thing that 2K had done. The Make-a-Wish Foundation has been doing great work for many years, and it was great to see 2K partnering with them to do something special.
These wholesome acts of goodwill do come with a side of foot-in-mouth, however. In response to a Tweet featuring a screenshot of Luke and My’Khail, Ronnie commented “so sick“. Normally that would be an innocuous phrase meant in a positive context, but it probably wasn’t the best choice of words when Make-a-Wish kids suffering from serious illnesses are involved. To be fair though, whereas many of Ronnie’s other infamous Tweets have been truly repugnant, that was just an unfortunate gaffe while trying to spread positivity. By all accounts, Ronnie was a big part of granting those wishes and making their visits special, so hats off to him and the team at 2K.
3. Lauren Hill’s NBA Live 15 Cover
Back in 2014, the basketball world heard the story of Lauren Hill, a high school player who refused to let her inoperable brain cancer stand in the way of playing college ball. Lauren would indeed suit up for Mount St. Joseph’s, when the school petitioned the NCAA to move up their season opener so that she could fulfil her dream. She scored the first basket of the night, and finished with four points. A lot of basketball fans understandably found inspiration in her story, and true to her word, that game against Hiram was indeed Lauren Hill’s first, and not last, collegiate game. She would appear in four games before her health no longer permitted her to play.
After her inspirational debut for MSJ, EA Sports announced that they would produce a special Lauren Hill Edition of NBA Live 15, featuring her on the cover. Later that month, EA made good on their promise as they delivered Lauren her special copy of the game. Cynical gamers downplayed the gesture as a publicity stunt, or mocked it due to the quality of NBA Live 15, but it was also recognised as an admirable tribute. Sadly Lauren passed away on April 10th 2015, but she left behind a great legacy with her indomitable spirit, her tremendous fundraising efforts for cancer research, and her appearances on both a Wheaties box and a special edition NBA Live 15 cover.
4. Safe Schools for Alex in NBA 2K Playgrounds 2
I’ve been critical of NBA Playgrounds and NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 in the past, as I feel they don’t live up to the standard for arcade basketball games set by classics such as NBA Jam and NBA Street. I stand by that assertion, and it’s something that I’d like to discuss in greater detail at some point, but they are decent games in their own right. Moreover, NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 made a rather wholesome gesture when Patch 1.06 added a Safe Schools for Alex playground. For those who are unaware, Safe Schools for Alex is an initiative that was started in memory of Alex Schachter, one of the victims of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018.
Alex’s father Max Schachter is a friend of Saber Interactive CEO Matthew Karch, which led to the inclusion of the Safe Schools for Alex-themed playground as free DLC. The game didn’t just aim to raise awareness of the cause through the new venue however, as they also pledged to match up to $100,000 in donations made to Safe Schools for Alex. While I am critical of the Playgrounds series adopting some of the more troubling hallmarks of NBA 2K after being brought under Take-Two’s umbrella, this was a classy gesture and a genuine attempt to make a positive impact on society. It’s easily one of the most wholesome moments in basketball gaming that I can recall.
5. Beloved EA QA Team Member Honoured
Before NBA Live had The One featuring The League and The Streets, NBA Live 16 experimented with a similar concept via the Summer Circuit in LIVE Pro-Am. When the game launched, the mode consisted of seven real venues such as Rucker Park and the Hoop Dome, each hosting their own pro-am tournament. The squads were made up of both real NBA players and fictional players, with figures such as former NBA Live community manager John Coleman having cameos in “boss battle” games. With the addition of an eighth venue – Margaret Hie Ding Lin in Chicago – the developers also saw fit to add a new boss character for the Level 3 game: Henry “Hank” Warner.
As then-executive producer Sean O’Brien explained, Hank had worked at EA Tiburon as a member of the Quality Assurance team for almost nine years, spanning several EA titles and three console generations. A much beloved co-worker and dedicated QA tester, he sadly passed away suddenly in the fall of 2015. Sean and his team wanted to pay tribute to Hank, and so the decision was made to add him to the game along with the Margaret Hie Ding Lin venue, with boss character abilities. Look, I’m not going to defend any of EA’s questionable business practices, but there are some great people working on their games, and this wholesome tribute stands as a fine example of that.
Are there any other wholesome moments in basketball gaming that warmed your heart? Let me know in the comments section below, and always, feel free to take the discussion to the NLSC Forum! That’s all for this week, so thanks for checking in, have a great weekend, and please join me again next Friday for another Five.